Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Still in Venezuela....

I had a quick minute and wanted to put up a few pictures. Here are just a handful taken over the past few days. They include photos of a plaza in Venezuela, a church, and me during one of my finer moments of cultural sensitivity. (Click on any photo to enlarge).

Monday, April 24, 2006

Welcome to Venezuela

I arrived in Caracas Venezuela late last night. I'm here to work with our teams working with the poor in the barrios as well as helping our staff transition to Venezuelan led leadership. The barrios of Caracas fill the hills. Communities are filled with generations of families that never leave the barrio. Millions of people only know life like this. (Click on a photo to enlarge).

Barrios line the hills

Barrio homes stacked upon each other

Me with barrio homes in the background

Some of our team that live in the barrios day in and day out

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

I just wanted to wish you a Happy Easter.

I hope you take a moment today to reflect how Jesus' pure love for you is what enabled him to face the cross head on. His desire to give you an opportunity to come to God (which his death provided) gave him the strength to go through the most grusome type of execution known to man.

If you have questions or doubts about whether or not the resurrection actually took place, I'd encourage you to scroll down this page and look at my series of posts from March 30, 2005 through May 10, 2005 or click on the links below.

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - Introduction

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - Factors Increasing Reliability

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - The Empty Tomb Part 1

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - The Empty Tomb Part 2

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - The Empty Tomb Part 3

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - The Appearances

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - Dying For A Cause

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - Alternative Views

Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead? - Conclusion

May the Lord richely bless you this Easter!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Jesus Walked on Ice? (part 2)

<--- Modern Day Sea of Galilee

Since some of you may not be familiar with the story of Jesus walking on the water, I will start this post by looking at the biblical account first. The story of Jesus walking on the water can be found in three of the four gospels. It is recorded in John 6:16-21, Mark 6:45-52, and Matthew 14:22-33. Since the account in Matthew has the most detail, I will use it as my base passage.

"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

- Matthew 14:22-33

The Sea of Galilee is 650 feet below sea level, 145 feet deep and surrounded by hills. These physical features make it subject to sudden windstorms that cause massive waves.

Okay, so let me paint the picture for you. Earlier in the evening Jesus sent the disciples on ahead out to sea while he stayed back to pray. Now it’s roughly four o’clock in the morning and there’s a boat full of experienced fishermen out about 3 ½ miles from shore. They are tired from a long night out at sea and then the storm comes in. Because of the geographical features of this sea, fierce winds pick up and massive waves begin crashing around the boat. Verse 24 states that the wind was so strong that the boat couldn’t move against it.

Are you picturing this scene?

For arguments sake, let’s set aside that Jesus, as God incarnate obviously would have the ability to control the laws of nature (after all, he created them). Let’s bring Nof’s theory of ice on the Sea of Galilee into the picture and see what that looks like.

So how is it Jesus, in his sandals and robe, manages to maintain his balance on a piece of floating ice, through a storm fierce enough to hold back a fishing boat full of experienced fishermen, for 3 ½ miles? Have you ever walked on a frozen pond or an ice skating rink without ice skates? It’s incredibly difficult to do even under the best of conditions. I would argue that it would be impossible for a man to do what Jesus did, under the conditions argued by Nof.

But let’s look deeper. In verse 29 we see that Peter wanted to join Jesus on the water. After an invitation by Jesus, Peter gets out of the boat, and walks to Jesus. After a few moments Peter realizes the ferocity of the storm, and takes his focus off of Jesus and onto the waves around him and subsequently begins to sink.

Of course this raises questions for me. If Peter was on ice, why did he begin to sink? Furthermore, if there truly was ice on the water, wouldn’t Peter or the other disciples be able to see it as he readied himself over the edge? Wouldn’t one of them be able to counter Jesus’ apparent miracle with an eyewitness account of floating ice? Yet we have no hint that that happened.

Obviously Nof takes none of this into consideration. His biased approach of supporting his predetermined conclusion leaves no room for critical analysis or plain old common sense.

Coming from a background in law enforcement, I tend to put a lot more weight on eyewitness testimony than I do any other form of evidence. In analyzing this journal article, whether I look at problems with the study, or problems that arise when compared with the biblical account, I am left with one definitive and critical question: If Jesus was doing nothing more than merely surfing on a piece of ice, than why did all of the disciples worship him saying ‘Truly you are the son of God’”?

Jesus Walked on Ice? (part 1)

<---- Current Location of the Sea of Galilee (AKA Lake Kinneret)
[click on photo to enlarge]

There is a new study out by Florida State University Professor Doron Nof in the April edition of the Journal of Paleolimnology. The study claims Jesus didn’t walk on water, rather an obscure and rare storm caused part of the Sea of Galilee to freeze, enabling him to walk on ice. Once I was able to stop laughing at the absurdity of this statement, I decided to investigate it for myself and I actually read through the article. (For those of you without access to the journal, you can checkout a news article about it by CLICKING HERE.)

As I began to read the article, I realized that there were some major problems with Professor Nof’s arguments. For ease of reading, I decided to categorize these flaws into two different categories: problems with the study and problems when compared to the biblical text.

My first problem with this study is that it’s speculative and just plain bad science. Professor Nof started his study as a witch-hunt. With a reputation for developing theories of natural causes to biblical accounts (i.e. the flood, parting of the red sea) Nof appears to develop his conclusion first and then tries to find data to support his conclusion. Any 6th grader could tell you that this is the opposite of the true scientific method which seeks to derive its conclusion from the data rather than vice versa.

For example, Nof states “With the idea that much of our cultural heritage is based on human observations of nature, we sought a natural process that could perhaps explain the origin of the account that Jesus Christ walked on water.”

Doesn’t this sound like they aren’t so much interested in discovering truth, no matter where it lies (i.e. the scientific method) but rather intentionally seek to find data establishing a non-miraculous explanation?

In an interview after the study, Nof said “I’m not trying to provide any information that has to do with theology here, all we’ve thought is about the natural process. What theologians or anybody else does with that it’s their business so to speak.”

This may sound nice at first, but think about what he’s actually saying “all we’ve thought about is the natural process.” This means he automatically excludes anything that isn’t a natural process, right from the start. The cards are already stacked against anything miraculous from even being a possibility. His pursuit isn’t to seek truth, but rather to cast doubt. It’s no different than a junior high girl starting a rumor just because she doesn’t like someone.

Nof makes numerous other statements supporting this such as “…our present explanation does not exactly address ‘walking on water’ but rather provides a plausible physical process that has some characteristics similar to those described in the New Testament” but I think you get the point.

But in the interest of fairness, let’s look at what arguments Nof himself claims. Remember, Nof’s whole argument is that the water in the Sea of Galilee was frozen, thereby allowing Jesus to appear to walk on water when in actuality he was walking on ice. Nof argues that while just about impossible for the sea to freeze today, it possibly froze a handful of times over the past 2600 years.

The following are quotes taken directly from Nof:

Throughout recent history there have been no known records of a total ice formation on its top. Furthermore, given that convection requires an initial cooling of the entire lake down to 4°C, it is difficult to imagine how such a low-latitude lake, presently subject to two-digit temperatures during the winter, could ever freeze.

Such a perfect combination of conditions on the low-latitude Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] might well seem miraculous. In the last 120 centuries, Nof calculates the odds as roughly once in 1,000 years. However, during the life of Jesus the prevailing climate may have favored the more frequent formation of springs ice -- about once in 30 to 160 years

"In today's climate, the chance of springs ice forming in northern Israel is effectively zero, or about once in more than 10,000 years."

As natural scientists, we simply explain that unique freezing processes probably happened in that region only a handful of times during the last 12,000 years,"."

So let me make sure I understand, in the last 12,000 years the sea has probably frozen over 12 times, and in today’s world (which is the time frame we are doing the study) it’s practically impossible to have it freeze over, we are discounting the eyewitness testimony from those actually at the scene and are now asserting that the timing was so perfect as to allow an opportunity for Jesus to present himself as a fraud?

In the next post we’ll compare the study to what the Bible has to say about the events of that day.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Context! Context! Context! (part 2)

I was recently visiting a popular Atheist website. The writer was claiming that the Bible was perverse and disgusting and promoted immoral activity. He then quoted the following verse to substantiate his point:

Genesis 19:32 "Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father."

Now based solely off of what is written, I would agree that this incestuous behavior is pretty disgusting. But the real question is whether or not the quoted text is actually representative of what the Bible is teaching. Remember, the Bible in many places is written as a historical narrative. That means that it records what actually happened and just because something is recorded doesn’t mean the behavior was approved of. Let’s now look at the entire story in context (remember Lot and his daughters just barely escaped Sodom and Gomorrah as God began to destroy it and Lot's wife died in the process).

Genesis 19:30-38 “And Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed in a cave, he and his two daughters. Then the first-born said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father. So they made their father drink wine that night, and the first-born went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. And it came about on the morrow, that the first-born said to the younger, "Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve our family through our father. So they made their father drink wine that night also, and the younger arose and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. And as for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.”

There are several important things to note here. First, Lot was not aware of what was happening so he did not approve of this behavior. Secondly, his daughters secretly plotted against him, drugged him, and then finally raped him. Each bore a son as a result of this activity. (It is also important to note that the daughters were not driven by lust. Rather they were driven by the fear they would never marry and therefore they would be left with no one care for them. This certainly doesn't excuse their immoral behavior, but it does show how the sinful culture of Sodom and Gomorrah caused them to justify their actions.) God will not be mocked and even a cursory study of the Old Testament will show that the Moabites and the Ammonites were among the most wicked people alive during that era.

The sin exhibited by Lot’s daughters had a long and lasting outcome that affected thousands of people. (Think about people you know who seem to have a long family line of problems. They are affected by other’s choices much the same way). The Bible did not record this activity because it supports the behavior but rather to show the real consequences of sin in real people’s lives.

Not simply looking at a verse but the entire context of the passage could be used in many other situations as well. For example, John 11:35 simply says “Jesus wept.” Now if we just look at this verse, someone could claim that an all powerful God was actually more of a crybaby. However, looking at the verse in context we can see that is far from the truth and that in his crying he was not only proving his humanity, but expressing deep heartfelt emotion. Therefore when life throws us its worse and we are heartbroken, we can know that we have a God in heaven who can empathize with us.

This post has gone on to be a bit longer than I intended. I hope you found it useful and see the importance not only for your own understanding of the Bible but in refuting those who simply pick and choose verses to make the Bible say what they want it too. If you’d like more information on this topic, you can

Monday, April 03, 2006

Context! Context! Context! (part 1)

One of the biggest problems we face in quoting from the Bible is that people can make the Bible pretty much say anything that they want. As noted Missiologist, Church Planter, and Professor Tom Steffen put it:

“People’s assumptions about God impact their perception of Scripture. Those who define the Supreme Being as a God of love may approach Scripture as devotional literature. People who view God as logical and linear may view the Bible as a book of verifiable propositions. Atheists who claim that God does not exist may search the Bible for ways to refute his existence. Some approach the Bible as a great work of literary art while others use the text mystically to discern direction for life”

Knowing this, followers of Christ must make sure that when we are quoting from the Bible, we are accurately quoting what the text is saying. Oftentimes when discussing the Bible we can be quick to turn to a verse that substantiates our point. However many people don’t know that the Bible wasn’t originally written this way. There was no “divine inspiration” of chapters and verses. In fact the Bible wasn’t divided into chapters and verses until the medieval times. Stephen Langton first divided the books of the Bible into chapters in 1205 AD and Robert Estienne (Stephanus) further divided each chapter into verses in 1565 AD. Although these divisions don’t affect the truth of the message, they can sometimes cause it to be confusing. We need to be aware of this to have an accurate understanding what the Bible is saying.

Stay tuned for the real life application…